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2020 NHL Draft Profile: Zayde Wisdom, the next Zach Hyman

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Meet the feel-good story of the draft, who may be the next power forward of the future

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

In previous profiles of other 2020 NHL draft prospects, I’ve picked guys who I find interesting and who have different reasons that I think have made them “sleepers”. For reference, or if you wanted to read the other profiles, they are as follows:

Tristen Robins (profile here) — a historically small guy who was never given an opportunity to play in his team’s top 6 until this year, and lacked a long period of exposure.

William Villeneuve (profile here) — an awkward skating defenseman who still has strong agility and transition play whose rankings are hurt by ugly mechanics.

Veeti Miettinen (profile here) — a small Finnish winger who took an unusual development path that hurt his exposure, and whose birth month may be held against him.

Karri Aho (profile here) — is a very young Finnish defenseman who is a great skater, decent passer, and very effective defenseman whose youth and lack of exposure has him running under the radar as a later round pick.

Samuel Knazko (profile here) — is a defenseman from Slovakia who shares some superficial similarities with Karri Aho but is more of a puck moving, offensively minded defenseman who can really push play in the right direction.

Now we come to Zayde Wisdom. Along with Tristen Robins, he might be my favourite prospect in this year’s draft. He not only plays with a very intriguing style that is very reminiscent of Zach Hyman, but his personal back story and everything he and his family have had to overcome is truly inspiring.

Zayde Wisdom’s Backstory

We’ll start with his recent history as a prospect, and how he got to where he is now.

Zayde Wisdom was drafted in 2018 into the OHL as a fourth round pick. It was actually a bit low compared to where he had been vaguely ranked (CHL draft rankings being more volatile than the NHL). He had played the previous two years for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens in the GTHL, putting up 53 points in 57 games. His team actually won the OHL Cup that year, where Wisdom added 8 points in 7 games. Wisdom finished the year on a championship team as the 2nd leading scorer, and he played a style that coaches loved.

Despite that, he fell to the rebuilding Kingston Frontenacs. The issue cited was uncertainty around Wisdom’s physique — as a 15 year old about to be drafted by an OHL team, he was 5’9” and 225 lbs. That scared teams away from him, not being sure if he would wind up being unable to really play at a high level.

Kingston, however, had done their due diligence and were not as worried.

“People didn’t really know what to do with him. And so much of it was just baby fat. But then you see his weight and it’s like ‘Holy shit,’” Federico said.

“I’m not saying it’s their fault at all because they don’t know which way it was going to go. If they’re looking at him as a first- or second-round draft pick and he’s going to be 250 pounds, if it goes the wrong way, he’s not going to be able to play. We knew how driven he was and his commitment and it wasn’t like he was eating pizza and candy all the time. It’s an easy bias for people to say ‘He’s big and it’s not going to work.’”

They not only knew he was already working hard to lose some of that weight — he would lose 15 pounds that summer, and another 7 pounds the year after — but they had seen that he could already move very well on his skates for speed and agility. As of now, Wisdom’ is listed as 5’10” and as low as 195 lbs on the OHL website and 201 lbs on Elite Prospects. Either way, he has trimmed most of his baby fat and turned his physique into muscle.

The next season was a tough one for both Kingston and Wisdom. It’s worth noting that Kingston was a truly awful team his rookie year, finishing dead last and tanking to draft phenom and exceptional player Shane Wright. Their record was 14-52-1-1, and had the fewest goals scored as a team (144) by a whopping 68 goals by the 2nd worst team. They were bad bad bad baaaaaaaaaaad. Wisdom himself only had 10 points in 68 games, and he came into this season on no one’s early draft rankings.

Despite that, Wisdom had endeared himself among the coaches in his rookie year.

Though the Frontenacs didn’t know what to expect from Wisdom in his first training camp, he sold head coach Kurtis Foster from the very beginning. While the production didn’t follow, Wisdom became the player Foster turned to whenever he needed a hole plugged in the lineup.

“We need a guy to play on the penalty kill? Let’s give Wis a chance. We need a guy in front of the net on the power play? Let’s give Wis a chance,” Foster said.

And then, then Zayde Wisdom finally won the lottery when the Frontenacs drafted Shane Wright. The first player that the team thought to play on Wright’s wing to help unlock his potential was the hard-working, physically strong, all-situations Zayde Wisdom. The two meshed together instantly, and Wisdom finished 2nd on the team in goals (29), points (59) and shots (193) in 62 games.

The breakout year as far as production goes led to Wisdom slowly rising in more draft rankings, to the point that he is now 77th on McKenzie’s draft rankings, putting him on a path to be taken in the 3rd round — maybe as early as the 2nd, and likely no later than the 4th.

The question that gets asked a lot with Wisdom is how much of that offensive production can really be attributed to his skill, and how much is just because he played with Shane Wright and eventually Martin Chromiak?

Zayde Wisdom Scouting Report

The short answer, if you ask a lot of public scouts, is that Wisdom helped his linemates as much as they helped him. They just worked very well together, similar to how Zach Hyman both helps and is helped by playing with high skilled linemates like Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and John Tavares. Let’s look at how he does it.

I will note at first that I did wind up watching two full games that Wisdom played in this season. In one, he had 2 goals and 1 assist in February during a 6-5 win over Windsor. In the other he had no points, was a -3, and got shelled with the rest of the team in a 10-2 loss vs Windsor in March. I wanted to get an idea of what he looked like at his best and at his worst. Otherwise, I did the same thing I usually do and read every scouting profile and watch every highlight I could find.

Skating: Good

Read any scouting report or watch any video of Wisdom and you will come away knowing that his skating is good. He is fast enough to do very well in the OHL and blow by a lot of defensemen in that level. He’s also agile enough on his edges to dodge checks and keep defenders off balance.

That said, he could still use some improvement. He could get quicker in terms of acceleration and try increasing his top-gear speed. If you’ve read my other profiles, you’ve likely seen this is something said about pretty much every prospect, so it’s not a red flag at all. He’s already improved his skating a lot since being drafted to the OHL, and in this season alone. There’s no indication that he can’t improve more as he gets older and works on it.

Here’s what some scouts say about his skating:

From Future Considerations’s 2020 Draft Guide (Paywall download):

Wisdom’s skating is above average, and he can keep up with the play with a high pace as he is constantly moving his feet, but he isn’t the fastest skater. He simply outworks his opponents and brings a lot of energy to each shift. He is quite agile and light on his feet at times for a player who has a thick build.

From Brock Otten at McKeen’s Hockey (Paywall):

Going back to his minor midget days, Wisdom’s skating has improved considerably to the point where he can actually be graded as a slightly above average mover. Part of that comes from the fact that Wisdom never stops moving his feet and appears to have an unending supply of energy on the ice. He buzzes around the ice in search of the puck. Wisdom’s first few strides could stand to be a little more explosive (which would allow him to be even more effective without the puck), but his top speed is good. He also shows the ability to make sharp cuts, especially with the puck and has terrific balance on his edges.

From Dominic Tiano at OHL Writers:

Wisdom is a good skater with good speed and is markedly improved from a year ago. He is able to get on the forecheck quickly and create havoc. He darts into lanes quickly and without hesitation. He’s a small guy at 5’9” but built like a tank. Quite simply he is the little engine that can with a motor and work ethic that never hits pause.

From Tony Ferrari at Dobber Prospects:

Wisdom gets around the ice with some pace but he may need to reign in his stride as it has a tendency to get wild, particularly late in shifts.

Here are some good clips (he’s number 74) that showcase his skating ability. In the first one below, you can see him use his edges to dodge the initial checker, then his speed to stay ahead of back checkers and get around the defenseman enough to set up Chromiak for the great scoring chance.

Here’s a good example of Wisdom getting up to speed pretty quickly and then being fast enough to pass his defender for the breakaway goal:

Finally, here’s a good example of him combining his skating with sheer effort to keep his feet moving, steal the puck, and score a highlight reel goal:

Shot & Scoring: Very Good

One of Wisdom’s most stand-out abilities is his shot. It’s not the best you’ll see, but he uses it well thanks to his other attributes. Between his skating and willingness to get into the ‘home plate’ area in front of the net, he takes a lot of high danger shots even though it’s good enough to score from further away.

From Mathieu Sheridan at The Hockey Writers:

He uses his strength to gain positioning in front of the net and is hard to knock off the puck. He is not afraid to be physical in the corners and can be often seen coming out with the puck on his stick. Wisdom has a pro-ready shot and can rip it home from almost anywhere in tight.

From Ben Kerr at Last Word on Hockey:

Wisdom can also score goals. He has good hand-eye coordination and quick hands. Wisdom uses these in front of the net to tip in teammates’ shots, pounce on rebounds and to one time passes to the back of the net. His soft hands also allow him to beat goalies in tight. He has an accurate wrist shot and gets good power on it from further out. He has improved his release, as it is much quicker than it was as a rookie.

From Peter Harling at Dobber Prospects:

My scouting notes from this year…Very aggressive in puck pursuit…excellent shot release…very strong net presence, effective in screen and making space for line mates on half wall…scores goals from 1-2 feet from goal…

Thanks to data from pick224.com, we can see just how much Wisdom shoots in close. He had 193 shots on goal this season, good for 2nd on the team and most them were of the high danger variety:

Here you can see Wisdom score after picking up a rebound in the slot and firing a wrist shot past the goalie:

Here you can see him on his opposite side, roofing a shot on the far side past the goalie’s glove hand after shooting from the faceoff dot:

Here’s another one where he receives a pass in the slot and fires a wrist shot with a very quick release to sneak one by the goalie:

Skill: Good Enough

This is what most scouting profiles would say is Wisdom’s biggest area of weakness, and it’s one I would agree with after watching two of his games. He is not an un-skilled player, and he is very adept at setting up teammates with good passes. But he is by no means dynamic. This is another area where he is very reminiscent of Hyman, who is able to set up his linemates with passes but is not someone you would say is a very skilled, elite playmaker.

From Brock Otten at McKeen’s Hockey:

Wisdom generally keeps things pretty simple in the offensive end and that is why he operates so well alongside his aforementioned talented linemates. While he has become more involved as the first man into the offensive zone with the puck, as a driving force in transition, he is generally a north/south attacker who looks to beat defenders with his speed and power as opposed to through creativity or deft moves. That said, you have to have skill to play with skilled players and Wisdom’s ability to handle passes while in full stride, and his ability to protect the puck through traffic are strong.

From Ben Kerr at Last Word on Hockey:

He is a very good puck handler and is able to lead the rush through the neutral zone and produce effective zone entries. He keeps his head up and had good vision. Wisdom is a good passer, making a quick move to open up a passing lane and setting up a teammate for a scoring chance.

From Dominic Tiano at OHL Writers:

Wisdom has also improved on his puck possession and has learned the importance of maintaining possession in today’s game. He is strong on his feet and hard to separate from the puck. His body is always in a good position to protect the puck. We would like to see his playmaking skills improve. To put it in hockey terms, would like to see his hands catch up to his feet and his head.

This is the kind of passing and playmaking you can expect from Wisdom. He gets a pass from a streaking Wright then makes a simple but smart pass back to Wright that works well because it is quick and well-placed.

And in this clip you can see a combination of Wisdom keeping his head up and making a good cross-ice pass in the zone, then find a soft spot in front to receive a pass back, and then combine it with some good hands to make the deft deflection.

And here’s a good pass on an odd-man rush. It was well-timed after he waited long enough for the one defender to commit to him, and also enough time for his teammate to pull ahead of the trailing defenseman so he was wide open:

Smarts: Very Good/Elite

This is something I think is comparable to Tristen Robins. When I researched my profile on Robins I came away thinking that he made the most of out his abilities because he was smart. He could anticipate plays, which helped him react ahead of time to be in better position. He could avoid getting knocked over by bigger players by hitting them when they’re off balance, or by not being where they expect him to be. He gets more out of his shot by using clever manipulating and good timing. And so on.

I get the same impression with Wisdom, albeit he gets the most out of a different set of skills. He has a good, maybe even very good shot that multiple scouting outlets call “NHL-ready”. He is a good and improving skater who is also able to anticipate where he needs to be ahead of time. He is physical and is able to win physical battles and collisions against bigger opponents because he is smart and knows how to use leverage and timing.

It also helps on defense. He is able to read plays to break up passes, harass puck carriers, and knows when to attack and when to stay back to support Wright or Chromiak when they’re going for it. The one thing I saw in his bad game against Windsor was that, at times, he would be back in the defensive zone, which is good, but would sometimes forget to shoulder check and see where his man was. So even if he could read a play, he might be too far away to stop a pass or get in front of a shooter. That kind of lapse is something you see even NHL players do, mind you, and it was not something he did in his good game that I watched.

You can also see his defensive ability reflected in his advanced stats. I’ll say again that there isn’t a lot of universally available, in-depth data on these prospects — even in the OHL. For this I am relying on the manual tracking and scraped data that pick244.com and Will Scouching provide.

For example, despite having one of the better young lines in the league, Kingston was still not a very good team. They finished tied for 2nd last in the OHL in points, narrowly ahead because they played one fewer game. They had one of the worst goal differentials at -87, with the 3rd worst goals for and the 4th worst goals against.

Despite that, Wisdom had a relative GF% of +11.81% on the team at even strength, and he with his linemates almost broke even while the rest of the team got murdered when they were off the ice. Wisdom appears to be the one doing the heavy lifting for their big line defensively.

From McKeen’s Hockey:

He has a very strong understanding of how to play without the puck. On the forecheck, he anticipates passing lanes well and forces turnovers by taking away the defenders’ primary option. He is also very adept at finding scoring lanes, slipping behind defenders and getting into those open spaces. He is not the biggest guy, yet he is so effective in tight to the crease because he reads the play well and is able to get inside positioning on larger defenders.

From Last Word on Hockey:

Wisdom brings his intense work ethic to his own zone as well. He keeps his feet moving and is willing to support the defence with strong backpressure against the rush as well as plenty of support against the cycle game. He is willing to battle down low. Wisdom also helps to clear the front of the net. He is a smart player who puts himself in good positions. Wisdom uses his stick to cut down passing lanes. He is also able to create turnovers with a poke check. Once those turnovers are created, he is able to transition the puck up the ice quickly as well. Wisdom is also effective on the penalty kill.

From Future Considerations:

He reads the play well and knows where he’s needed on the ice. This also aids his defensive zone play where he can break up passes with nice reads and quick hand eye coordination. He’s committed to the back check and is aggressive on the puck and tough on the puck carrier. He has an active stick, closing off passing lanes and does a good job of laying the body as he uses his stick to separate the puck from the man.

Zayde Wisdom’s X-Factor

I’m making this it’s own section, because it’s one of the big reasons why I love Wisdom as a prospect, want the Leafs to take him, and even if they don’t I want him to succeed. The fact that he might be a Zach Hyman clone but with a better shot and maybe better hands is enticing enough. But Zayde Wisdom has had to overcome a lot in his personal life to make it where he is, and I don’t think you will find a prospect more driven to succeed and better human being than Wisdom.

There has been a few profiles on Wisdom’s story, but none are more detailed than Scott Wheeler’s piece in the Athletic. I recommend reading it yourself, but if you don’t have a subscription then here is the TL;DR.

He was raised by his grandmother, who is Metis. His mother is half-Metis, half-African American. His father was a Jamaican immigrant, who divorced his mother when he was very young. He is a long-haul trucker and rarely saw his children as they grew up, not until the last few years was there a re-connection. His mother worked several jobs to feed her children and mother, and to financially pay for both her sons to play competitive hockey.

Early on, instead of enrolling him in hockey, Mairri had Wisdom in skates at local outdoor rinks. Eventually, through an after-school program, he was able to get on the ice indoors. When it was clear he wanted to pursue it further, Mairri worked three or four jobs so that Wisdom could play house league hockey. While she worked, Kitty did everything else, shuttling Wisdom to and from the rink in a beat-up car with bald tires while he ate his meals in the back seat.

People in Wisdom’s inner circle tell stories of nights spent in the car after it ran out of gas on the way to a tournament.

They would continually go to food banks so they could eat. They would go without power at times. Zayde had to receive equipment, rides, food, and the odd financial support from his teammates and their parents because his mother simply could not afford it.

What helped Wisdom become a serious prospect in terms of development was meeting a former college hockey player, and fellow African American, Derrell Levy, who became a mentor, trainer, and father figure. Wisdom would participate in three of Wayne Simmonds’ tournaments/camps for underprivileged kids, where he won an MVP and started a bit of a relationship with Simmonds.

To this day, his mother still works four jobs even though Wisdom describes their situation as “better”. And now, some choice quotes from Zayde himself. I think they really reveal his drive to succeed, but also how amazing a human being he has become after being raised in those circumstances.

“I knew I couldn’t afford it so it’s not like I went home and cried to my mom about it,” Wisdom said. “I would just say ‘I’m going to get there one day and I’m going to help my mom get what she wants when she’s older and make money off of the sport that I love to play.’”

“(Levy) probably had it worse. If he’s been through that then I can get through it too,” Wisdom said. “I can call Derrell any time of the day or night and he would pick up for me. If I need advice about anything, he’s one phone call away. He was my first trainer and he’s going to be my last trainer. He has been there all my life and I’m going to be there for him.

“It would mean a future to me. I look it as a need, not a want. I need to get drafted. That’s what I need to do. This isn’t an option for me. It needs to happen because I need to be able to help my mom out and get through this with my family. It’s one word to sum it up. Need,” Wisdom said.

“I’m going to make it one day and I’m going to make sure our power never gets shut off again.”

It is both inspiring and heart breaking at the same time. I want nothing more in the world than for this young man to become a star in the NHL.

Where Should Zayde Wisdom Be Drafted?

I mean this question in two different ways: first, from a general perspective when it comes to his rankings. Second, from a Leafs’ perspective about where it makes sense to take him.

For the former, if you look at all Wisdom’s rankings from public sources, his potential range is pretty wide. The highest he’s ranked is 55th in the late second round. The lowest he’s ranked is 148th by Future Considerations. Bob McKenzie, whose rankings come from surveying real NHL scouts and is typically more accurate for what actually happens in a draft, has him 77th.

The Leafs, of course, currently have one pick in the 2nd round around 50th overall. Then they don’t pick again until the 4th round at 112th and 118th. Chances are, someone will fall to them in the 2nd round that is a potential 1st round talent — similar to what happened with Robertson. That makes it unlikely they would take Wisdom there. It also seems unlikely that Wisdom will be available by the 4th round, if you go by McKenzie’s rankings or some rumours that a few teams are seriously considering him in the 3rd round.

It pains me to say it, but chances are low that the Leafs will get a shot at him. Not with the current position of their picks. Now, they can always get other picks in the 2nd or 3rd round, either by trading down or if/when they have to trade from their roster before/at the draft.

Now that’s all in a vacuum. It is me trying to be objective when assessing his value as a prospect and trying to think of a smart strategy for the Leafs’ draft. When I take Zayde Wisdom the human being into account, it changes the math for me and I think bigger picture.

Right now the hockey world, and the world at large, is in a firestorm of wrestling with the issue of racism. Less than a year ago, Akim Aliu kicked it off by opening up about the racism he faced by a then-current NHL coach that seemed to derail his career before it even began. The hazing incident, racist taunts, and unfair treatment by the team and league in the OHL was already public knowledge. That news has since led to others like Evander Kane, Nazem Kadri, and others to open up about their experiences.

Media called out minor leagues for how they handled and reported on racial slurs and other racist incidents against children who are minorities. Aliu, Kane and others formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance with the goal of eradicating systemic racism and intolerance in hockey.

And to bring this all back to Zayde Wisdom and the draft, there is also some evidence of systemic racism in hockey when it comes to how black players are treated, funneled to (or away from) certain positions, and how they are ranked.

In analyzing differences between Central Scouting’s mid-term and final rankings and using draft pick values by Eric Tulsky, we found that White players on average slightly improved their ranking, while Black players saw their ranking fall from the mid-term to final rankings. However, the small sample size makes it difficult to draw any definitive conclusion.

So even though that Zayde Wisdom seems to be ranked in NHL circles as around 77th/3rd round, there is evidence that players who are minorities see their actual draft position fall short vs where they were ranked:

Deviation between predicted and actual draft slot for players of minorities
Image source: https://hockey-graphs.com/2020/07/22/racial-bias-in-drafting-and-development-the-nhls-black-quarterback-problem/

All this is to say that Zayde Wisdom might either fall below where he is expected to be taken, which seems like it is forecasted as the 3rd round. So he MIGHT fall to the 4th round, maybe as far as where the Leafs pick at 112th. It might also mean that his ranking of roughly 77th overall might actually be underrating him because of his race, and/or other factors. He very well might genuinely be worth a 2nd round pick.

If you clicked on all the scouting reports I linked above, you would get the overall impression that Wisdom isn’t quite as skilled but is very physical and tough and athletic. The knock on his skill is likely what holds him back the most. However, it’s worth reading the piece I linked above looking at how a systemically racist system leads black players to being pigeonholed in a way that hurts their development and draft stock. They are more likely to have scouting talk about their positive “athletic” and physical traits, and criticize their smarts, leadership and technique. They are steered away from positions where those traits are thought to be more important, like centers or defense.

So it is entirely possible that even after sharing those scouting reports, I am sharing inherently biased assessments of his play. I might be falling victim to it myself, even though I’m aware of the bias and try to avoid it. The fact that Wisdom still gets solid reviews for his smart and defensive play, and that his “skills” and playmaking took a big step forward this year are therefore good signs in more ways than one. But it also makes you raise an eyebrow at the talk of how physical and tough he is, and especially at any profile that downplays his achievements because he is only with Shane Wright to be his “enforcer”.

All this is to say that if the Leafs took him in the 2nd round, I wouldn’t be mad at all. I would be happy about it. If they found a way to get another pick between 50th and 77th where they could take him, I would be even happier. And even if a different team took a shot at him before the Leafs can take him — even the Boston Bruins — I would still be happy.

I not-so-secretly hope it’s the Leafs. I want them to open up the full scale of their development program. Their fitness and conditioning trainers. Their nutritionists. Their skills and skating coaches. I want them to unlock his full potential and set him loose on the NHL. I want Zayde Wisdom to wear a Toronto Maple Leaf as he becomes the next Zach Hyman, a smart winger who makes his star linemates and entire team better. An exceptional young man who gets the chance to help his family, his friends, and others who made such major sacrifices on his behalf so he could get to this point.

I shouldn’t be the only one who wants guys like Wisdom to succeed, regardless of the team it’s with. The whole sport of hockey should want it. I, selfishly, as a Leafs fan and someone who wants hockey to become more diverse, would love to see it happen in Toronto.

Highlights & Videos

Poll

Where should the Leafs draft Zayde Wisdom, if he’s still available?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    2nd round - 50th overall
    (19 votes)
  • 43%
    4th round - 112th or 118th overall
    (40 votes)
  • 6%
    5th round or later
    (6 votes)
  • 29%
    Trade down or acquire a pick in the 3rd round for it
    (27 votes)
92 votes total Vote Now